Make no bones about it, Oklahoma is not down and out over their loss to Nebraska. Sure they disappointed, but Oklahoma is still Oklahoma and they know that it took everything that Nebraska had to beat them on their home field.
The Sooner coaches feel very good about how they played in the game. They knew going in that it was going to be incredibly tough to win the game in Lincoln, but without question felt they could have done so. In fact, now knowing what they know they felt they should have won the game.
The game was a tight fit, so it turned on a couple of plays. OU was very confident and very much alive with 8:54 to play in the fourth quarter. In fact, OU Head Coach Bob Stoops was so confident in his defense that he decided to pooch kick a punt from Tim Duncan down inside the five instead of going for a 53-yard field goal. Now, hindsight is twenty-twenty, but Stoops said he would do it again.
"Considering how we were playing defensively, I would probably pooch it again," Stoops said Sunday afternoon following the game. "Now that I know what happened, I keep wrestling with that decision, but I like our defense so much that I am sure that nine times out of ten I would pooch it down there and tell our defense to go get the ball. I have a lot of confidence in Tim (Duncan) and know that he can make a 53-yarder, but if he doesn't' we lose field position and I just thought it was better we tried to pin them down. Hey, give them credit, (Eric) Crouch makes a big play on the option and then they beat us on the trick play. Things like that happen in a good football game."
Eric Crouch's 19-yard gain was a game-saver for the Huskers. Crouch was totally held in check, before he finally breaks one off the right tackle to get the Huskers off their goal line. However, at that point the Sooners were still in good shape, before game-saver number two occurred.
"We have them stuffed right there at the Nebraska 32, but we get called for the inadvertent facemask," said co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "That is just a bad break on our part. We stuff the play, just like we had stuffed him the whole game, but we get a penalty and they keep the drive alive. We played great defense on that series. Think about it, we let them off the goal line, but we hold our poise and stuff them the next three downs. Bingo, we should be getting the football back with a little over five minutes remaining in fairly good field position. As it is, we get the penalty and then get burned on the trick play. That's football. But because of the way it happened, we are not discouraged how we played at all."
For 97 percent of the game, Oklahoma's defense was outstanding. Roy Williams and Rocky Calmus were flying around the ball and Brandon Everage was doing a great job in run and pass coverage. It took two Cornhuskers on most plays to block freshman sensation Tommie Harris and in the fourth quarter, Harris was stronger than any Husker offensive lineman.
Where the Sooners lost this game was in their lack of playmaking offensive on offense and special teams. I can't believe I am saying the Sooners lost this game on special teams, but on this rare occasion Nebraska had the better special team play.
"They made more plays than us in the end than we did and that made the difference," said Stoops. "We had our opportunities that we didn't come through and convert on. The reverse pass is wide open and we have a chance to go ahead 14-10, but again we throw a bad ball and don't convert. Then, we had some drops in the second half and missed some opportunities for some big plays on fade routes. We have come up with those kinds of receptions before, however we weren't able to do it against Nebraska. I felt in the kicking game that their punting game got the better of ours. When both teams punt 10 times there is a lot of exchanging there and I felt they had better field position in the end. That, coupled with two turnovers hurt us, because in tight games that makes a difference. Again, they made more plays than us and won the game."
The lack of production out of the wide receivers continues to be the big story offensively. Granted, the quarterbacking has been up and down, but if the Sooner wide receivers played like they did a year ago, then the quarterbacks would look a lot better.
First, let me point out that nothing has changed at the Sooner practices. The wide receivers catch the same amount of footballs that they caught last year. Wide receiver coach Steve Spurrier Jr. is doing the same outstanding job he did a year ago, and it is basically the same guys.
However, you have to factor in they lost of Andre Woolfolk and the fact that Mark Clayton is the only wide receiver that is stepping up on a consistent basis. Woolfolk did not play one snap on offense, but did an outstanding job on defense. Clayton, once again played well coming up with 62 yards on six catches. Norman also had a solid game with four catches for 48 yards. However, where is Curtis Fagan and Antwone Savage? Savage had two catches for 35 yards, but both juniors are not getting open enough or making big plays.
"We had some opportunities slip through our hands, literally slip through our hands," said Offensive Coordinator Mark Mangino. "It's obvious on the plays that we are talking about that we had our hands on the ball and just didn't haul them in. We are not asking our wide receivers to make any plays they didn't' make last year, but right now we are not getting the same production. However, let me point out that they are not totally problem. Our quarterbacks are not always finding the right receiver in their progressions and many times the quarterback is having a defender right in his face, because our o-line didn't do a good enough job. It takes 11 guys to make an offense work and 11 to break it down."
At right tackle, the Sooners alternated Jerod Fields and Jammal Brown, and both gave a solid account of themselves.
"They played right tackle by committee and I think we will keep it that way," said Mangino. "Both played well enough to give us a chance to have success and that is about all we can hope for right now. Right now, both can't play an entire game by themselves, so we are going to play both of them and both have potential to be very good offensive linemen."
Bob Stoops says that starting quarterback Jason White has a sprained knee and that he will miss the Tulsa game, but he has a chance to be back for Texas A&M. White was getting X-rayed Sunday and reports indicate that the knee injury is a torn ACL and that White will attempt to play on it if he can stand the pain. This situation is very similar to OU defensive back Terrance Simms' knee injury that occurred early in the season. Simms attempted to comeback after sitting out one game and and re-injured the knee in the fourth quarter of his first game back, which has forced him to sit out the rest of the season. What you hope is that there is nothing more to White's knee injury and he can come back in two weeks.
It's another opportunity for Nate Hybl to get something going at quarterback. The coaches seemed pleased with Hybl's performance against Nebraska and he did look good in the first half. In the second half, he struggled against the Nebraska pressure and his wide receivers didn't catch the ball on some nicely thrown fades.
There is no question that the team has total confidence in White and they would like to feel the same way about Hybl. For that to happen, Hybl needs to deliver some big throws.
Most of the national media at the game believes that OU and Nebraska are two of the top four programs in the country. All believe that Florida and Miami belong with the Big 12's top two big two. All believe that OU and Nebraska will battle again in the Big 12 Championship game, and if the Sooners win they will still have a great shot to play for the national championship.
The projected BCS poll tomorrow is Nebraska, Miami, OU and Florida with Texas fifth.
One final point. Bob Stoops and his football team handled the loss with great class. Stoops was great at the post-game press conference and won over many national friends. He was intelligent, funny and right to the point with his answers.
Mike Stoops, Brent Venables and Mark Mangino were the same. All were dressed very well, handled themselves very well and were total class. The Sooner players answered every question, and despite the fact they were hurting inside, really won over the national media.
This OU program is all about doing things the right away and that was never more evident than in their first loss in 20 games.
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